What is the dirtiest word in the English language? While it does have its equivalents in some other tongues, most languages, especially those languages that are soon to be extinct – have not, and never even had, an equivalent term. It is a word so dirty that it is never, ever, spoken or heard in polite society, not even in the very depths of the ghetto.
It is not the F-word; nor is it the N-word. These words are commonplace and shouted in the streets.
Where might one hear such a filthy word? Where might this dirty word be given vent to defile the air? In corporate boardrooms perhaps; murmured in the quiet of a lawyer’s office; or conspiratorially whispered in a judge’s chambers. The Mass Media shun it. Politicians cringe at the very sound of it. The rich and famous never mutter it – ever.
What makes any word dirty? What makes people avoid its use? Dirty words evoke an emotional, animal or gut reaction. They are provocative. They go to the very core of who we are. Words akin to the F-word reference our sexuality and our base animal nature. The N-word and all its derogatory kinship terms reference our social status – or lack of it.
Inheritance. The casus belli immemorial. Inheritance is a claim, a concept and sometimes a law whose true origin is shrouded in the mists of pre-history. It may well be that inheritance was the solution to a vexing and recurring problem – but this solution became distorted and grotesque; turning upon itself and creating far greater problems than it has ever solved.
The conflict between heir and bastard wends its way throughout the warp and woof of human history. Your pre-historic ancestors fought over their food. They fought over their females. They fought over claims of territory. When tools were invented they fought over them. The tools became weapons. At that time there were no rules. Might only, made Right. At the same time that weapons developed so too did the concept of cooperation. The problem with Might Makes Right is this: Might is fleeting. One man’s domination over others depends upon raw physical strength and agility. But all men grow old and all men are subject to injury. All men eventually sicken and die. You’re only top dog for a little while. The mightiest of mighty men could be overcome numerically (out numbered or ganged up on) by much smaller men and is also subject to an inherent weakness; that is to say, the need for sleep. The need for sleep makes the mightiest of mighty men vulnerable to a stealth attack by a lesser man. In those days your ancestors were all a bunch of thieves, thugs and murderers – they had to be. Every man was a warrior but not in any modern or heroic sense. Every man had to hide, guard and fight for any possessions he hoped to keep.
Those who saw an advantage to cooperative thievery witnessed the breakdown of social order every time a warrior fell: whether it be of old age, sickness or battle, when a man died all those around him fell to in a bloody mêlée over his possessions. One mans death was thus often an occasion for the deaths of several others as well. This tore families apart and internally weakened tribes and nations.
The nameless ones made them a rule: that the son of the fallen was rightful heir to the possessions of the fallen, thus sparing the bloodbath mêlée and breakdown of social cohesion within the gang.
Of course there were problems. What if he had many sons? Which would be heir? The first? The last? By his will? What if he had no sons? What if he had no children or wife? Such issues are argued to this very day.
Evolving technology brought about durable goods and often the things made by the hand of man outlive the man himself. Such possessions naturally accumulate from one generation to the next over great spans of time, especially those things that generate a profit. But profit for one is loss for another.
Inheritance as an abstract body of laws is a man-made, self-perpetuating institution that out-lives its authors. It is practically a living entity unto itself. Estates do not serve men. Men serve their estates.
Over the great sweep of history Dame Fortune has had her say – and today we are confronted by the grotesque iniquity of one man inheriting a vast fortune while his neighbor struggles beneath the yoke of perpetual, hereditary poverty.
Inheritance. It conjures thoughts of death. It is the proverbial skeleton in the closet. It has been said that behind all great wealth there is crime. Inheritance is historically a bloody, oppressive hand over us all.
There are no great men – only great estates.
Inheritance. The dirtiest word in the English language.